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OREGON V. HITCHCOCK, 202 U. S. 60 (1906)

U.S. Supreme Court

Oregon v. Hitchcock, 202 U.S. 60 (1906)

Oregon v. Hitchcock

No. 16, Original

Argued April 5, 6, 1906

Decided April 23, 1906

202 U.S. 60


In the absence of any act of Congress waiving immunity of the United States or consenting that it be sued in respect to swamp lands, either within or without an Indian reservation, or of any act of Congress assuming full responsibility in behalf of its wards, the Indians, affecting their rights to such lands, this Court has no jurisdiction of an action brought by a state against the Secretary of the Interior and Commissioner of the General Land Office to enjoin them from patenting to Indians lands within that state, claimed by the state under the swamp land acts.

Page 202 U. S. 61

The fact that the action is brought by a state against the Secretary of the Interior, who is a citizen of a different state, does not give this Court jurisdiction as the real party in interest is the United States.

It is not the province of the courts to interfere with the administration of the Land Department, and until the land is patented, inquiry as to equitable rights comes within the cognizance of the Department and the courts will not anticipate its action.

By leave of court, the State of Oregon filed an original bill against Ethan A. Hitchcock, Secretary of the Interior, and William A. Richards, Commissioner of the General Land Office, to restrain the defendants from allotting or patenting to any Indians or other persons certain lands within the limits of the Klamath reservation, which it is alleged were, on March 12, 1860, swamp and overflowed lands, and praying a decree establishing the title of the State of Oregon to such lands, and declaring that the title is subject only to such right of temporary and terminable occupation as may exist in the Indians at present occupying the said reservation, and is not to be defeated by any allotment, patent, agreement, or other arrangement. To this bill the defendants filed a demurrer, partly on jurisdictional grounds and partly on the merits.

For a clear understanding of the questions presented, the allegations in the bill must be stated. It is alleged that the defendant Hitchcock is a citizen of the State of Missouri, the defendant Richards of the State of Wyoming; that, by an act of Congress approved February 14, 1859, 11 Stat. 383, c. 33, Oregon was admitted into the Union; that, by an act approved September 28, 1850, 9 Stat. 519, c. 84, Congress granted to the State of Arkansas and other states all lands within their respective limits, which at the date of the act, were "swamp and overflowed lands," and by reason thereof unfit for cultivation; that, by an Act of March 12, 1860, 12 Stat. 3, c. 5, the provisions of the last-named act were extended to the State of Oregon; that, on February 14, 1859, as well as on March 12, 1860, the United States owned in fee simple a large region and body of land lying within the boundaries of the State of Oregon, which said body of land was neither reserved nor dedicated to any public

Page 202 U. S. 62

use, and was free from any claim of title or possession, saving and excepting a right to temporary use and occupation belonging to certain Indian tribes; that within this large body of lands were three tribes or bands of Indians -- the Klamaths, the Moadocs, and the Yahooskins -- few in number, that number being estimated by the officials of the United States in charge at from 1,200 to 1,500; that they were all in a savage state, uncivilized, without a fixed place of abode, and roaming from place to place within the region; that they had no other kind of tenure or title than that which they and their ancestors held from time immemorial and before the settlement of white men in the territory; that, on October 14, 1864, 16 Stat. 707, a treaty was negotiated between the United States and these tribes of Indians by which they ceded to the United States their right, title, and claim to all these lands except a certain specified and smaller tract within the original outboundaries, which was created a reservation for their use; that said reservation was continued in the occupation of the Indians according to the aboriginal usages and customs of said Indians and of Indians generally, without any claim or pretense of permanent title or individual right to the lands, or any of them, and without any steps taken towards conferring the ultimate title upon them until after the year 1899, when the defendant Hitchcock, Secretary of the Interior, directed and caused a large portion of the lands to be surveyed and divided into numerous definite lots or tracts, for the purpose and with the intention of allotting such tracts to the individual members of the tribes, to be by them held in severalty, and the further purpose of issuing and delivering to each of them a patent declaring that the United States holds the tract allotted in trust for the Indian and his heirs for a period of twenty-five years, and, that at the expiration of such period, it will convey the tract to him or his heirs, discharged of the trust and free from all encumbrances; that in this the defendant Hitchcock was assuming and professing to act under the authority of the act of Congress of February 8, 1887, 24 Stat. 388, c. 119; that within the reservation made by the

Page 202 U. S. 63

treaty of 1864 were large tracts, which had been and were on March 12, 1860, swamp and overflowed lands and unfit for cultivation, and hence, under the Act of March 12, 1860, had become the property of the state, subject only to the right of occupancy on the part of the Indians; that in the year 1902, before any patents were issued, and while the surveying and allotting were in progress, the state caused an examination to be made for the purpose of ascertaining the tracts which, on March 12, 1860, were swamp and overflowed lands, and a list prepared of them, which list is attached to the bill as an exhibit; that it presented and filed that list with the Surveyor General of the United States for the State of Oregon, together with evidence tending to prove that all of the tracts within the list had been and were, on March 12, 1860, swamp and overflowed lands, and rendered thereby unfit for cultivation, which evidence was found and certified by the Surveyor General to be sufficient. That thereupon the state selected and claimed said tracts as granted to it by the act of Congress of March 12, 1860, and applied to the proper officers of the United States to inquire into and consider the claims of the state; that this application and the evidence were submitted to the defendant Richards, as Commissioner of the General Land Office, and on November 18, 1903, the Acting Commissioner denied and rejected the claim upon the sole ground that the lands, whether swamp and overflowed or not, were not granted to the State of Oregon by the act of Congress. From this decision, an appeal was taken to the Secretary of the Interior, and the decision of the Land Office affirmed.

Page 202 U. S. 68

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